End of year reviews



Our critics believe these are the best albums, books, movies and shows of the year.


‘Donda’: More than a tribute

By Allegra Coleman, Managing Editor

Kanye West’s tenth studio album “Donda,” named after his mother Donda C. West, who passed away in 2007, continues his religious journey displayed in his past music through this complex and spontaneous album littered with unexpected features and an exploration of different genres beyond rap. This interesting combination is what continues to make West one of the most successful artists, as he lures his listeners to step out of their comfort zone throughout the album.

It first begins with a 52-second extended chant of his mother’s name. This opening prelude feels like it’s resembling Donda West’s final heartbeats, making it an impactful introduction to the album compared to his others.

After the release of his 9th studio album, “Jesus Is King,” in late October 2019, West delved heavily into the themes of Chistianity and gospel. He was able to carry these same themes over into most of the songs throughout the album without fully focusing on them and consuming the whole project like they did in “Jesus Is King.”

The “Donda” tracklist brims with features from both already-established and new up-and-coming artists that you’d never expect, taking up 23 of the 27 tracks. But there were five specific features that not only surprised me, but completely made the whole album — as they are collaborations that flowed together perfectly.

After the chant, it leads into “Jail,” which begins with pop band Francis and The Light and a few verses from West himself. Halfway through the four-minute song comes a strong verse from the one and only Jay-Z. To hear them working together again on a song was surprising, especially on the first track.

Another feature that I found interesting was in the song “God Breathed,” which featured vocals from the artist Vory. These vocals could be heard all throughout the album, in four different tracks, which caught my attention right away as I’ve never heard of him or his work until now.

Other features that excited me were Ariana Grande on “Donda”; Playboi Carti on “Off The Grid,” “Junya,” and “Junya Pt.2”; and The Weekend on “Hurricane,” which became my favorite song from the whole album.

Beyond these incredible features, West was able to impress me on the tracks he went solo on such as “Heaven and Hell.” This would have to be my second favorite song from the album due to the intense build-up to the beat drop, and the old Kanye West feel.

“Donda” was a perfectly crafted album that I thoroughly enjoyed. It comes with a culmination of both slow and fast upbeat songs that are already filling my everyday playlists. Overall, I think that this album was a success in all aspects of music, creation and meaning that goes beyond his mother but everything she has done for him — making it a must-listen.

Swift takes down the patriarchy one lyric at a time

By Simona Laudicina, Reporter

Lost in a sea of subtleties, casual fans have continued to ask: ‘Why is it such a big deal, it’s the same album?’ And sure, apart from the highly anticipated version of the 10-minute breakup anthem “All Too Well,” Red (Taylor’s Version) might seem like the same autumn-laced notes straight from 2012.

But this album is more than just a 131-minute walk down memory lane. It is Taylor Swift taking back her power. When Swift was just 15 years old, she signed a contract with Scooter Braun, a Big Machine Label Group (BMLG) manager, which then meant she didn’t have the rights or full profits of her music for 14 years. Apart from the monetary aspect, Swift also claimed to be bullied and exploited, which Braun denied.

Swift gaining the rights to her own music is not just a victory for teenage Taylor but for teenage girls everywhere. Having a fanbase made up largely of teenage girls, Swift has always been looked down upon — and she’s not the only one. When teenage girls like something, it is the beginning of the end. Books, bands, artists, movies — it doesn’t matter — if teenage girls like it, it’s ridiculed.

Since Taylor released her debut album in 2006, the media has portrayed her as “boy crazy.” And sure, Taylor has written about her exes…but who hasn’t? To solely focus on her love life and fanbase has not only discounted Swift’s talent, but shined a light on the box society locks young women in.

With an income of $150 million, Swift is one of the highest-paid female artists of all time. Over her 16-year career and through nine studio albums, two re-recorded albums, six EPs, three live albums and fourteen compilations, Swift has jumped the lines of country, pop and folk  — and yet all the media focuses on is her relationship status.

With unreleased songs from every genre of her expertise, “Red (Taylor’s Version)” gives a perfect summary of Swift’s maturation under the spotlight. Along with the album came a music video, directed by Blake Lively, and a short film.

Starring Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien, this 10-minute film tells the classic story of a young Swift falling for an older man. Yes, we’ve all heard this story before, but this time Swift includes lyrics that make digs at not only her old man of an ex but the entire patriarchy itself.

It’s safe to say that after listening to this album, listeners will be left in nostalgic awe wondering: does he still have the scarf in his drawer even now? But more importantly, does the misogynistic music industry recognize pure talent, or do they simply choose to ignore female voices?

‘Summer’s Over’ — the indie-pop escape you didn’t know you needed 

By Saskia McDonogh Mooney, Features Editor

The album released on Oct. 13, when summer was indeed over, and it was a collaboration between TV Girl and Jordana. Jordana is a relatively new artist with around 400,000 listeners a month, while TV Girl is a more established band who has been releasing music since 2013.

The songs on the album perfectly mirror the title because while they have a beachy and upbeat feel to them, they also have an undertone of nostalgia. It’s like I’m looking back on this summer and I can feel the sun on my face.

The album has a very dream-like quality that makes you smile to yourself and is perfect to brighten cold and gray days, or to keep the good mood going on sunny days with clear skies.

My two favorite songs have to be the first one, “Summer’s Over,” and the last one in the line-up, “The Party’s Not Over.”

“Summer’s Over” makes you feel as if you’re driving along the highway on the way to the beach. However, in an odd contradiction with the warm nostalgia, there are the lyrics “We’ll be birds in our separate cages.” The words are realistic and recognize the end of summer means the end of a time of freedom. Yet that is not what lingers with the listeners because of the sort of calm trance the music puts you in where you feel the sun on your face. This song then sets up the rest of the dreamy reminiscent songs, before finishing with “The Party’s Not Over.”

This song is more mellow — it’s hazy almost like the hours before dawn. You find yourself picturing a couple leaving a party in the few hours before dawn, with one of them saying “the party’s not over until I hear you say we’re going home.” They know they should leave but will only do it together. It’s romantic and is representative of the end of a time of fun, like summer, but at least they are going into the following seasons together.

Ultimately it is wistful, and warm and soothing, while simultaneously making your heart smile, remembering the summer and the fun you had. The songs in this short album prioritize the connections with others in enjoying life, and generally just fills you with positive energy while you listen.

It’s perfect for generating daydreams in any season and any weather, and I highly recommend “Summer’s Over.”


Sally Rooney’s writing matures in latest book, ‘Beautiful World, Where Are You’

By Mara Mellits, Editor-in-Chief

I was initially excited when I heard Sally Rooney was writing a new book, as I am a fan of her works such as “Normal People” and “Mr Salary.” However, when I learned the book would focus on four millennials, I was disappointed because I couldn’t relate. Yet Rooney did the impossible and humanized millennials.  As I read, I discovered the book wasn’t necessarily about them so much as it was a character study focused on development and maturity.

Alice and Eileen are best friends who met at university and are now reaching thirty, though they are both at very different stages of their life. Alice is a famous novelist and, in my mind, a reflection of Rooney herself, a young and successful writer, but still feels a gap in her life. Eileen, on the other hand, works for a literary magazine and lives with two other roommates, but she’s happy.

Simon is an old friend of Eileen’s — the quintessential ‘it’ man — handsome, smart, caring and wealthy. He is directly contrasted by Felix, Alice’s love interest, who is a simple man with a blue-collar job.

To put it simply, Rooney’s books are character studies, and “Beautiful World, Where Are You” is the best example of that. At times it feels as if the book could be a commentary on existentialism, religion or morality, and sometimes it feels like it’s a book on absolutely nothing. But that’s what I love about it.

These four characters are fictional, but they could easily be people in our own lives. Eileen and Alice struggle with their romantic relationships and what those relationships mean. Alice and Felix go out on one failed date, and that awkwardness haunts them. They don’t know how to approach their relationship or what to call it. They’re very blunt with each other, giving personal opinions but also sharing hidden secrets, which makes for a quirky dynamic.

Another difference between this book and Rooney’s other books is the presence of technology. Since it is contemporary, technology plays a big part, way more than in her other works, with a majority of the book consisting of lengthy emails and texts between the characters. Meanwhile, Eileen uses social media as a way to stalk her ex-boyfriend.

So yes, in comparison to Rooney’s other works such as “Normal People” and “Mr Salary,” the characters are more mature in age and in behavior. Critics of “Normal People” may enjoy “Beautiful World, Where Are You” because the characters grow up — they aren’t making dumb mistakes since they’re young.

Rooney did not disappoint with this book as it was one of my favorite books from 2021 and hopefully, it will be one of yours. If you enjoy Sally Rooney’s work, then “Beautiful World Where you Are” will be the perfect book for your new year.


‘The French Dispatch:’ A delicious slice of life

By Aidan Sadovi, Managing Editor

One of the hallmarks of a movie directed by Wes Anderson is you never know what you’re going to get in terms of story, but you always know how you’re going to get it.

The drawings, the blunt and stilted dialogue, the distinctive camera angles, the middle 20th-century pastiche — his kitschy style has tended to be a caricature of itself at points.

Because of this eccentricity, Anderson is always present on the screen, even when the frame is crowded by his usual trusty ensemble casts.

But unlike some of his other films, his latest, “The French Dispatch,” doesn’t let its story (or rather, stories )get caught up in the creative wake of his always interesting, often delightful, and sometimes over-the-top filmmaking methods.

Set in the fictional and ironically named city of Ennui Sur Blase, “The French Dispatch follows a group of writers from a New York-style American magazine in France as they craft an issue for their final publication cycle, after their founder and patriarch, Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray) has died. As such, the writers, played by a cast including Francis McDormand, Owen Wilson and Jefrey Wright, put together a last issue consisting of some of the best pieces the magazine has printed. The subsequent stories are shown in a series of independent vignettes, all taking place in the same town.

The first vignette is more of an expository tool, featuring Owen Wilson’s reporter, Herbsaint Sazerac, biking around the city and introducing the viewer to the various neighborhoods, intricacies and idiosyncrasies of the city. It is charming, and, at times, quite funny. It’s delightful to hear Wilson’s deep Texas drawl mangle the long francophone vowels while wearing a beret on a french peugeot cycle. Better though, is his exploring of the neighborhoods, which includes, but is not limited to, child pickpocket, old people pickpocket and cat enclaves. What it provides more than anything, though, is an appreciation of this peculiar little fictional town — a vein that will continue to run through the remaining vignettes.

All of the remaining stories are excellent in their own right, yet the second and the fourth stand out amongst the rest. The second, starring Javier Bardem as an incarcerated artist, follows the relationship between him and his muse, a prison guard, as he skyrockets to the pinnacle of the modern art world behind bars.

The final vignette, starring Jeffrey Wright, packs the most punch, both literal and metaphorical. In it, Wright’s character, similarly named Roebuck Wright, regales a talk show host with a story he went through on the job in the dark cobblestone streets of the city.

Each vignette is rendered wonderfully through vibrantly colored sets and costumes, along with creative imagery and illustration, but the artistry shows through most in the excellent dialogue and storytelling. The story of the police chef features a car chase that’s entirely in the form of a comic book, an intricate kidnapping, and plenty of wonderful and intricate dishes, but the most memorable scene is a somber conversation between Wright and the chef as the latter succumbs to a poisoning. Instead of despair, the chef revels in finally discovering a new flavor, albeit a toxic one, after so many years.

Wes Anderson has not reinvented the wheel with “The French Dispatch” but he has somehow managed to keep the flavor of his filmmaking techniques and writing fresh, even to those who think they’ve experienced all that the Wes Anderson palate has to offer.

‘King Richard’: An Unlikely Holiday Pick

By Maxwell Jenkins, Reporter

While‌ ‌not‌ ‌a‌ ‌holiday‌ ‌film‌ ‌at‌ ‌first‌ ‌glance, “King‌ ‌Richard‌” ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌deep ‌and emotional ‌film‌ ‌that‌ ‌reminds‌ ‌viewers‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌importance‌ ‌of‌ ‌family.‌ ‌Based‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ real-life‌ events‌ ‌of‌ sister ‌tennis‌ ‌stars‌ ‌Serena‌ and‌ ‌Venus‌ ‌Williams‌,‌ ‌and‌ ‌more‌ ‌specifically,‌ ‌their‌ ‌unique‌ ‌father,‌ ‌Richard‌ ‌(‌‌Will‌ ‌Smith), this‌ ‌film‌ ‌focuses‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌work,‌ ‌dedication,‌ ‌teamwork ‌and‌ ‌hardships of fatherhood. ‌

Richard‌ ‌has‌ ‌to‌ make sure ‌to‌ ‌give‌ ‌his‌ ‌daughters‌ ‌every‌ ‌opportunity‌ ‌to‌ ‌succeed‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ unaccepting ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌tennis.‌ The sport lacks in diversity and proves to be a harsh world for the Williams family, but they take on that adversity together.

While‌ ‌the‌ ‌film‌ ‌is,‌ ‌of‌ ‌course,‌ ‌a‌ ‌reenactment‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌tumultuous‌ ‌and‌ ‌eventful‌ ‌upbringing‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌tennis‌ ‌stars,‌ ‌director‌ ‌Reinaldo‌ ‌Green‌ ‌brings‌ ‌the‌ ‌audience‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌screen.‌ ‌He‌ ‌makes‌ ‌the‌ entire ‌piece‌ ‌feel‌ almost ‌like‌ ‌a‌ ‌documentary.‌ ‌Green‌ ‌utilizes‌ ‌long,‌ ‌handheld‌ ‌shots‌ ‌to‌ ‌make‌ ‌the‌ ‌audience‌ ‌feel‌ ‌like‌ ‌they‌ ‌are‌ ‌standing‌ ‌in‌ ‌front‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌characters.‌ ‌This‌ ‌adds‌ ‌a‌ ‌raw‌ ‌feeling‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌whole‌ ‌piece.‌ ‌While‌ ‌this‌ ‌may‌ ‌make‌ ‌the‌ ‌audience‌ ‌feel‌ ‌uncomfortable‌ ‌at‌ ‌times,‌ ‌it‌ ‌is‌ ‌undeniable‌ ‌that‌ ‌Green‌ ‌has‌ ‌a‌ ‌gift‌ ‌for‌ ‌storytelling.‌

Green‌ ‌is‌ ‌aided ‌by‌ ‌an‌ ‌incredibly‌ ‌talented‌ ‌cast.‌ ‌‌Smith,‌ ‌the‌ ‌headlining‌ ‌name‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌film,‌ ‌brings‌ ‌Richard‌ ‌to‌ ‌life‌ ‌through‌ ‌not‌ ‌only‌ ‌voice‌ ‌but‌ ‌also‌ ‌physicality.‌ He embodies the walk and gestures often seen in interviews with the real-life Richard. This film allows Smith to shift from the Fresh Prince to King Richard before our very eyes.

Not‌ ‌only‌ ‌is‌ ‌Smith‌ ‌the‌ ‌perfect‌ ‌embodiment‌ ‌of‌ ‌his‌ ‌character,‌ ‌but‌ ‌Saniyya‌ ‌Sidney‌ ‌(Venus‌ ‌Williams)‌ ‌and‌ ‌Demi‌ ‌Singleton‌ ‌(Serena‌ ‌Williams)‌ ‌also‌ ‌demonstrate‌ ‌their‌ ‌metamorphosis‌ ‌into‌ ‌their‌ ‌characters.‌ ‌Scenes‌ ‌are‌ ‌perfectly‌ ‌comparable‌ ‌to‌ ‌actual‌ ‌footage‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌tennis‌ ‌stars,‌ ‌and‌ ‌it‌ ‌is‌ ‌nearly‌ ‌impossible‌ ‌to‌ ‌tell‌ ‌the real-life superstars from their on-screen counterparts.‌ ‌All‌ ‌the‌ ‌actors‌ ‌are‌ ‌gifted‌ ‌on‌ ‌their‌ ‌own,‌ ‌but together we ‌see‌ ‌the‌ ‌bond‌ ‌‌they‌ ‌forged‌ ‌on‌ ‌screen.‌ ‌

“King Richard”‌ is‌ ‌ultimately‌ ‌a‌ ‌tale‌ ‌of‌ ‌family,‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌ensemble‌ ‌executes‌ ‌that‌ ‌task‌ ‌in a meaningful and powerful way.‌ ‌So‌ ‌if‌ ‌you‌ ‌are‌ ‌sitting‌ ‌down‌ ‌with‌ ‌family‌ ‌or‌ ‌friends‌ ‌over‌ ‌the‌ ‌holiday,‌ ‌consider‌ ‌this‌ ‌unlikely‌ ‌pick‌ ‌to‌ ‌warm‌ ‌everyone’s‌ ‌heart.‌ ‌

Maxwell Jenkins worked alongside Reinaldo Green (director) in the film “Joe Bell” (2021).


‘Gossip Girl 2021’: Xoxo, She’s Back 

By Paige Wilson, Reporter

You’re either viewing the 2021 reboot of “Gossip Girl” as a fan of the original or with no prior knowledge of the original series, just looking for a new show to watch. Either way, we’re back in New York City with the newest generation of Constance Billard’s elite student body.

The new series focuses on the relationship between Julien Calloway (Jordan Alexander), an influencer and model, and her half-sister Zoya Lott (Whitney Peak), an outsider to the elite lifestyle, who recently moved to the city after receiving a scholarship to Constance. Separated at Zoya’s birth, the girls finally connect after fifteen years, communicating without their father’s knowledge.

The series begins with Constance Billard reopening post-pandemic. Here, we are introduced to Julien’s friends, all equally affluent and powerful: Luna La (Zión Moreno), Monet de Haan (Savannah Lee Smith), Max Wolfe (Thomas Doherty), Akeno (Evan Mock) and his girlfriend Audrey (Emily Lind), as well as Julien’s boyfriend Obie (Eli Brown). Wanting her friends to like Zoya for herself and not just for being her sister, Julien and Zoya pretend that they never interacted prior to the first day.

Gossip Girl, in the revision, is no Dan Humphrey, the student who was the original creator; instead, the blog from the original — a website where tips were submitted and shared — takes the form of an Instagram account run by teachers seeking to gain students’ respect. The allure of the original show is that it had the viewers guessing Gossip Girl’s true identity for years. The reboot differs in Gossip Girl’s identity being a group of vengeful teachers as opposed to a student.

The reboot heavily focuses on social media, acting as a warning of the dangers of publishing false information on a public platform, with students facing the backlash of the gossip spread. The teachers act as the mediators of this damage; originally running the account as an “experiment” but, seeing the power and influence gained, they become fixated on the account posting any tip without considering the repercussions for their students.

A problem I had with the original “Gossip Girl” is the lack of diversity in the group of characters it follows. Unlike its predominately white predecessor, the reboot showcases an inclusive cast highlighting African American, Asian and transgender actors. This is what the reboot does best, along with including scenes of activism for LGBTQ+, women’s rights and against poverty — mostly seen in the context of characters rebelling against their overbearing parents.

The 2021 Gossip Girl — although taking inspiration from location, central conflict and characters — is its own show. Viewing it independently allows you to watch a new show with nostalgia from the original. I recommend the series for both fans and new viewers — the show provides a modern take on the series we love so much.

Want to see what happens next? Check it out for yourself then, xoxo GG.

Jason Sudeikis excels in ‘Ted Lasso’ season 2

By Mara Mellits, Editor-in-Chief

American soccer fans rejoice, soccer is finally popular in the US

For soccer fans, Americans living in England and anyone who enjoys a good comedy, “Ted Lasso” is for you.

As introduced in season 1, Ted (Jason Sudeikis) is an American college football coach who gets sent to the UK to coach a soccer team, AFC Richmond, despite knowing nothing about the sport.

Season 2 starts with Ted’s second year as coach, with the team’s best season in history under his belt. This clueless soccer coach seemingly brought his team to the top, bringing them up a league.

Newfound pressures cause some changes for the team. Dr. Sharon (Sarah Niles), a sports psychologist, is brought in, yet she helps Ted more than anyone on the team. Richmond is forced to bring back arrogant player Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster), whose selfish attitude has ruined his relationship with the team. Former player Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) is brought in to help, despite his initial negative feelings about coaching.

With more and longer episodes, the series has time in its second season for some new development. Taking after its namesake, it focuses largely on Ted, who has to spend another season away from his family. He also has his own repressed feelings to uncover, which Dr. Sharon helps him with.

To add to this, “Ted Lasso” also brings in a new antagonist for Ted, now that Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) and Ted are on good terms. This brings in a new and unlikely villain; this only made me like Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt), Ted’s right-hand man, even more; he seems to be the only one who notices this character’s personality shift.

The show dives a bit deeper into Coach Beard this season, spending an entire episode just focusing on him, pushing the boundaries with his strangeness through humor. Virtually nothing important happens in that episode as the viewers take a trip with Beard yet it’s so fundamental to his growth as a character.

“Ted Lasso” takes a heavy look into all the characters this season with relationships having their peaks and their downfalls. The feel-good nature continues throughout the series, so no matter what it may be, such as a death in the family, a major depressive episode, learning to say goodbye to a career or choosing to put your career or family first but ultimately if you just believe, everything will work out in the end.